A Sign of Things to Come…

[I’m using the (Un)Inspired Ramblings Facebook page to post some more regular updates and photos in between main blog posts here. You can find it here.]

Travelling through the forests in France means joining an overlapping network of secret paths. These routes, where motorised vehicles are mostly prohibited, are decoded by a series of layers of signs. Often, different networks are combined on one physical path; at other times, they go their own way.

There are the long distance Grand Randonee (GR) routes shown in red and white…

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Often combined with more local routes indicted in yellow…

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Although sometimes distinctly separated…

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There are forestry roads…

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Of which I think this is another verson…

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Overlaid onto this physical network are specific local directions for walkers and horse riders…

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And the Grand Traversee du Massif Central (GTMC) mountain bike route…although it has to be said that these signs are often faded to the point of being unable to tell which way they are pointing, or are missing entirely. Without the GPS track I’m using, following this route with be markedly more difficult and time consuming.

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Leaving Dourbies the route climbs up through some tiny villages, with vegetable gardens squeezed in, hanging onto the hillside.

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Some smooth tarmac curves up through the forest…

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…until eventually I’m looking down on the surrounding landscape again.

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As the day passes, I hear thunder rolling around in the valleys, slowly chasing me.

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The skies get greyer and more tempestuous, with the clouds teasing the tops of the hills.

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I make it to the walled town of La Couvertoirade, without getting the drenching that I think must be imminent. La Couvertoirade was founded in the 12th and 13th Centuries by the Knights Templar. Now it is mostly inhabited by artists making wares for the masses of tourists of visit during the day time. I stay in the Gite de la Cite, housed in the former rectory in the shelter of the ramparts of the town, squeezing in amongst a large group of middle aged french friends here to walk, and a couple of mountain bikers riding the GTMC a little quicker than me on full suspension bikes with just a few clothes in a rucksack.

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The downpour comes overnight. In the morning, I clad myself in waterproofs prior to leaving, only for the sun to suddenly break through and cast a warm light on the damp streets. I remove my layers again, and have a little wander around…

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I have once again run out of cash and decide that I should take a detour by road to the nearest cash machine in la Caylar, rather than risk getting to the village of La Vacquerie et St. Martin de Castries and finding that the gite there doesn’t accept cards. Predictably, when I get there, the cash machine in La Caylar isn’t working, the huge service station in which it is located won’t give me any cashback, and the next nearest cash machine is further south, in the larger town of Lodeve. Its quite a detour, and looks like its downhill, but also seems to involve me riding first to St Pierre de la Fage (just a few miles from La Vacquerie), in order to avoid the Autoroute… Not far out of La Caylar the skies start to open. When I get to St Pierre, I take shelter in a bus stop, eat some chocolate, and debate whether to carry on to La Vacquerie and pray that the Gite there accepts a debit card, or to head down to Lodeve to find cash.

As always lately, I play it safe. As soon as I tip the bike off the little roundabout in the direction of Lodeve, I know this might be a mistake. I don’t have the detailed map card for Lodeve downloaded, but it doesn’t look too far away, and doesn’t seem to be that much lower than St Pierre de la Fage, although I don’t look that carefully, as it’s kind of irrelevant. If I want cash, thats where I must go.

But as gravity takes over, just a little at first, I know straight away that this is a road heading to the bottom of a valley. The momentum builds quickly and as one smooth, tempting curve leads to another, I can’t resist continuing, even though I know that the pleasure of each of these must be shortly repaid if I am to return to La Vacquerie to continue with my final planned day on the. The possibility of not returning crosses my mind. I could just head on down to the coast from here, running from the hills and the rain. But I have just one last day on the GTMC and the views are meant to be amazing. If I think this through properly, given the weather forecast its unlikely that I’ll see anything anyway, but that doesn’t seem to be the point.

I roll all the way down to Lodeve in just half an hour, partly relishing the smooth sinuous road, partly grimacing internally that I will soon have to head back up it. Cash sorted, I find a cafe to take stock. As I pull up and rest the bike, I feel looks of disapproval from the old couples sat on the terrace. They glance at me every now and then, and I assume that they are looking at me, hairy, soaking, bedraggled and thinking that I’m lowering the tone of their nice lunch. After my coffee and coke, as I go to put some air in my tyres, one lady turns to me and with a tentative smile, ask where I’m from. They are a Belgian couple just arrived on holiday and ask about my trip. Next to them are an elderly couple from Bristol, who also ask lots of questions. The lady from Bristol gives the Ogre the best compliment: I was just thinking it looked like a wonderful bike, but was wondering where you were going to put the baguette. (I had to break a bit off the end and eat it to squeeze it into the frame bag…). I realise, not for the first time, that I often think that people are thinking the worst of me. Those looks of disapproval that I saw were in fact looks of genuine curiosity and ended up in a lovely conversation. I really must learn to expect the best and not the worst in peoples’ views of me.

Eventually I muster up the motivation to leave and head back up the hill. Predictably, and perhaps as penance for even considering leaving the GTMC early, the heavens open once again and it literally pours down. At times I am riding up a river flowing down the tarmac, washing the gravel from the side of the road down with it. I don’t get my jacket on quick enough and am soaked. I’ve been drier in some swimming pools, but there is nothing to do but to keep pedalling to keep warm.

The only picture I take all day is at St Pierre de la Fage before I roll down the hill to Lodeve. I don’t have the enthusiasm today to take any more…

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Posted in Bikepacking London to Seville (2014) and tagged , , , .

6 Comments

  1. Chris
    As I sit in my office dealing with the mundane items of earning a crust your exploits bring a momentary clarity of mind, plus I love your photos, its a bit like watching football from my couch, a delight without the cold, wet, effort and inconvenience although I know it totally lacks the atmosphere. Ride on!
    Peter

  2. Great photos. Love following your adventure. Nice introspection. A little personal growth along the way. Keep at it.

    • Thanks Josh! I think the photos are getting better although I have mixed feelings about the words, depending on the day! I find it hard keeping up with remembering the detail – so much new happens that even just a week ago seems hard to recall!

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